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The Rediff Special/Amberish K Diwanji

Smaller states: 'Where will it all lead to?'

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The Presidential assent for the creation of four news states is likely to create major changes in the Indian political landscape. One which is expected to open a Pandora’s box. The present plan calls for creating four new states by carving up three of India’s larger states and to grant Delhi, the capital of India and at present a Union territory under the control of the central government, full statehood.

The new three states promised are Uttaranchal (the western hilly terrain of Uttar Pradesh), Vananchal (the southern mineral rich part of Bihar) and Chhatisgarh (the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh).

Opinion on whether new states should be created is being hotly debated. The Vananchal issue has already become the bone of contention in Bihar with the state assembly voting against the Centre's proposal on Monday.

Anand Kumar, professor of political sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, strongly favours the concept. “The last time we had a States Reorganisation Commission was way back in 1956, more than 40 years ago. Since then, India’s entire social structure has changed. Today, we need a federal system that is more reflective of the present set-up of India,” he insisted.

Professor Kumar, however, is against the rather ad hoc manner in which the present Bharatiya Janata Party government has gone about the extremely emotive matter. “They have just announced that three states will be created. But why these three? What about all the others who are crying out to be heard?” he asks.

He feels, instead of just announcing new states, the government must set up a second States Reorganisation Committee to examine the proposal in detail, meet representatives of various groups demanding states, lay down a set of rules for the forming of states, and then reach firm decisions.

Yet, can more and more states satisfy all conditions? Mani Shankar Aiyar, Congress secretary and the person behind the Panchayati Raj bill, is against creating any more new states. Officially the Congress position is that it will support the bill for the states, but as someone who has studied the federal structure of India, Aiyar is personally fearful of the outcome.

“When we first agreed to create new states, the logic was simple: it would be language, and this explains the states in southern, western, and eastern India. In northeastern India, given the tribal societies in existence and the presence of ethnic kinship, those factors were also considered. But for north India, it was on the basis of certain historical factors. Thus Uttar Pradesh was born out of two princely regions – Avadh and Agra – being merged by the British, and Madhya Pradesh was born from the remainder princely states being merged after the formation of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, while Bihar was created by the British after carving up the huge Bengal province,” says Aiyar.

“Now, on what basis are you creating new states?” he asks, and adds the question on everyone’s lips, “If you agree to separate states for tribal and hill zones, what about all the other such groups in India?”

Aiyar points out that the entire central belt of India, from the Dangs in southern Gujarat through Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India, up to Madhubani in Bihar is populated by various tribal groups. “Why not states for all of them?” he asks, “Why just three?”

There are pending demands for more states, a few of them extremely violent and which have claimed many lives. One such violent struggle is for Bodoland, to be carved out of the region north of the Brahmaputra river in Assam. Then there have been demands for Vidarbha (eastern Maharashtra), Bundelkhand (southern central Uttar Pradesh), Telengana (interior Andhra Pradesh), Kodugu (a small strip in west Karnataka, a region populated by the Coorgs), the now quiescent Gorkhaland (northern hilly West Bengal), and Garo (out of Meghalaya).

Each of these demands often have some merit and yet, can be discarded, depending on which side of the fence you are. A classic example is the reactions of the BJP and the Communist Party of India. BJP leader K R Malkani, supporting the case of the planned three – Uttaranchal, Vananchal, and Chhatisgarh – saw little merit in the other situations at present. “Gorkhaland and Bodoland demands are a conspiracy funded by the CIA,” he alleged in a whisper. “For the remaining, they can be dealt with as and when the demand arises”

His statement clearly reflects the fear of many groups that the demands for these two regions are promoted by the presence of missionaries. Yet, when Subhas Ghisingh made his demand over a decade ago for a separate Gorkhaland, he pointed out the Nepali-speaking hill region had little in common with the Bengal plains. On almost all counts the demand for Uttaranchal can be replicated in the Darjeeling region.

Does this mean that only when the demand becomes very vocal (and often violent) that it needs to be considered?

The Smaller States controversy, continued

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